One shelter closing for forest fire evacuees

The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG–The leader of a northern Manitoba First Nation says an evacuation to escape a forest fire was a harrowing experience made harder by the lack of proper infrastructure and a quick way out.
“Before we knew it, we had this huge fire column that was hanging over the entire community,” Wasagamack Chief Alex McDougall said of the evening last week when the fire that had been in the distance suddenly swept toward the reserve.
“We had our moms with their kids on their arms, with whatever they could grab, whatever clothes they had on their back–the fire behind them–and we were literally running for our lives,” he noted.
Wasagamack faced a bigger challenge than St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill because it has no airstrip.
Its 2,000 residents had to take turns squeezing into small boats and make the 20-minute journey across Island Lake to St. Theresa Point.
The effort continued well into the night.
McDougall and other indigenous leaders called a news conference yesterday to demand an airport for Wasagamack–something they said governments promised more than 50 years ago.
“In this day and age, it’s not acceptable for them to have to leave . . . the way they did,” said Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents First Nations’ communities across northern Manitoba.